One of our core members, Jordan Miller, has just published a scientific paper using RepRap 3D printing technology to engineer living tissues for regenerative medicine. I’ll give you a rundown of the science and a step-by-step guide of how Jordan got to this great spot in his career. Jordan is quick to point out that this is work that would not have been possible 5 years ago, or without the help of RepRap, Hive76, and this wonderful city of Philadelphia.
There are other labs around the world that are attempting what Jordan and the rest of the team at UPenn and MIT have been working towards. The end goal of regenerative medicine research is engineered tissues and replacement organs for treatment of human disease. As Science news says,
Imagine a world where if your heart or kidneys failed, you wouldn’t have to endure an agonizing, possibly futile wait for a donor whose organ your body might reject. Instead, a doctor would simply take cells from your own body and use them to “grow” you a new organ.
Other lines of research are attempting to 3D print directly with living cells and gel. These so-called “bioprinting” approaches involve loading cells and gel in syringes to be used as feedstock to create a structure from scratch. The problem is that healthy liver cells, for example, usually die of starvation (lack of nutrients) and suffocation (lack of oxygen) while enduring the slow 3D printing process.
Enter Jordan and his innovation: since vasculature provides the lifeblood to resident cells, why not focus on the vasculature first?
Jordan and the rest of the research team at UPenn and MIT have developed a new way to create vasculature for living tissues. This 4 step process involves: 1) 3D printing a network of sugar filaments, 2) surrounding it with living cells in a gel, 3) dissolving away the sugar to leave behind a vascular network for 4) the delivery of nutrients and oxygen. He accomplished this with a custom built 3D printer, extruder and control software.
Here’s a step-by-step of Jordan’s many year process:
- Get a crazy idea to link sugar and vasculature when comparing the interior of a 3D print to a capillary network.
- Get a PhD in bioengineering
- Move to Philadelphia
- Join a hackerspace
- Get introduced to 3D printing, MakerBot and RepRap
- Assemble your first MakerBot
- Invent a heated build platform to dry your sugar while printing.
- Add a heater to the Frostruder so you can print molten sugar.
- Assemble a customized RepRap Mendel that fits your new extruder.
- Get help from your hackerspace to properly control your pneumatic extrusion.
- Work for months perfecting recipes and methods for printing vasculature.
- Write it all up in a research paper and submit!
You can read the Penn press release about this awesome science, an overview from Science News, or the full paper. A more detailed post about the hardware used in this project will follow and soon you’ll be able to make your own sugar extruder. (It prints chocolate too!)